In a city where the majority of D.C. Public Schools' fourth- and eighth-graders test below basic in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, why have Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposed cutting school librarians, which is tantamount to shutting down libraries?
The plan would eliminate librarians in schools with student populations of 299 or less. Larger schools would retain their librarians. But they would be included under "flexible funding," allowing principals to make the final decision about whether to keep or cut.
"When DCPS cuts school libraries, it does an injustice to our city's public school students who need to advance their literacy if they are to succeed in today's world," Peter McPherson recently told the D.C. Council.
He is a member of the Capitol Hill Public School Parents Organization, which has demanded the cuts be reversed. For three years, beginning in 2005, CHPSPO worked with private organizations -- the Capitol Hill Community Foundation and the Washington Architectural Foundation -- to raise $2.4 million and renovate libraries in eight elementary and middle schools on Capitol Hill.
The cuts proposed by Gray and Henderson would undermine their work and contributions made by Target and Capital One for restoration of other school libraries.
"We're clear on the role literacy plays," Chancellor Henderson told me earlier this week. "I'm more urgently focused than anybody in this town and can't sleep over reading scores."
With a proposed fiscal 2013 budget of $812 million, why can't DCPS afford librarians at all its facilities? The administration also has proposed cutting special education coordinators. For this current fiscal year, DCPS has a projected deficit of $25 million.
What's happening with the money?
That's a question Henderson and her team will be asked when they appear next week before D.C. Council's Committee of the Whole, headed by Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown.
She told me rising costs are outpacing funding. The system also has to spread those limited resources across too many facilities. "We have got to right-size this school district." Translation: Some schools must be closed.
I understand those problems. I am even sympathetic. But school libraries and librarians are essential and critical.
"We have invested in full-time librarians for the last three or four years and we haven't seen the kind of payoff we'd like" with reading test scores, Henderson countered, adding she is not disparaging librarians. "We have pulled away from programs where we haven't received a return on our investment."
"I have to ask is there another way to get the results I want with the resources I have," continued Henderson, adding a newly introduced grants program -- Proving What's Possible -- would allow schools to implement best practices such as extending the instructional day and creating reading intervention projects. All schools can apply. The largest grants will be for the lowest-performing schools.
That's all good. But, in my book, libraries and librarians are irreplaceable. They inspire and nurture a love of reading. With that, all doors open.
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.